Perplexing Pet Products: Five Pet Place's scratching post

UPDATE, 6/14/12: Five Pet Place founder Michael Ostrofsky (and his Pebble Beach golf hat) have tried to answer a number of our questions right here -- including the Gorbachev product; their returns policy; and the 5PP rewards program. (We still think purchasing a $375 scratching post in order to get a $50 reimbursement on an adoption fee is a little bit more complicated than it needs to be...but it's the thought that counts.) We're sorry Ostrofsky wasn't able to get our comments field to work, and we appreciate his elaboration on many aspects of the Five Pet Place experience.

Five Pet Place promises a high-end answer to an age-old question that has beleaguered cat owners since the time of cave drawings: How can one own a cat or cats, but not let that single fact define one's entire dwelling? We've all longed to class up the ugly plastic litterboxes, dowdy scratching posts, and frumpy carpeted cat towers that come with cat ownership; we've all wished that our cat's accouterments could look as elegant as our cat himself does, describing an elegant vase shape as he sits in the window.

But for every orange-blossom-haiku photograph our ginger tabby is featured in, there are seven others in which he's crassly hoisting a hind leg over his head to attend to "private" business. It is what it is. Pet ownership isn't very chic most of the time.

Enter Five Pet Place to try to change all that with a full line of high-end cat products, including litter cabinets that look like filing systems; two- and three-bowl servers that wouldn't look out of place at a fancy hotel buffet; a streamlined window-bed "catio" that we wouldn't mind multi-purposing as a classy bookshelf unit; and of course the scratching pads and posts. Each product is eminently customizable in a variety of wood finishes, including walnut, honey, and white, and the 5PP "design studio" allows consumers to add other custom touches, including custom nameplates, quartz insets, and different paint colors.

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The perplexion begins with the caption on the scratching-post product page: "This Five Pet Place Scratching Post with Select Walnut finish and Absolute Black quartz centerpiece was sent to Mikhail Gorbachev with our compliments." Oh. …Wait a sec: what? "Dear sir: We have heard that you have a cat, and that your home contains many select-walnut touches. Please enjoy this scratching post"? I mean, God bless their marketing team, but you'll notice that the site doesn't include a testimonial from Gorby…perhaps because the man doesn't feel comfortable endorsing a product that costs $375. …Excuse us: "starts at" $375. With the customizations, it's probably well north of $450.

For a scratching post.

We'll be the first to say that the products look really really nice. We're sure there's a big retail mark-up, but still, some of the items would look great at Shine Pets HQ, done up in a white finish and a little nameplate saying "Mabel" on it. But it's a very specific, hotel-lobby kind of "nice" – if your décor doesn't line up with 5PP's idea of luxury, the fancy litter tray will look just as out of place as the twelve-dollar plastic version from Petco. You can customize the stuff, but it's always going to have that "Widget Corp. reception area" look to it. Is a 5PP item nicer to look at than the big beige plastic dome of our current litter set-up, or the popping-out stuffing of most furniture arms in our house? Of course. Are we going to drop four bills on a scratching post our cats might ignore anyway? No way. We wouldn't pay forty bucks unless we had guarantees that the cats would actually use the thing – and the 5PP return policy is not particularly generous, in our opinion, based on the money spent. You'll get dinged a 20% packaging fee, and the shipping is on you (and if you had the product personalized, you're stuck with it). Also, you have to build the scratching post yourself. For that kind of money, they need to send a guy to build it for me. A cute guy.

Five Pet Place also has a "philanthropic" promotional program, but the terms are kind of confusing, and if they've donated their products to shelters or vets, we're not seeing that on the website. They're not required to do that, or to charge less for their products; the company does prioritize American manufacture and craftsmanship, and we believe that they stand behind their products. But we still find the scratching post – in fact, most of the line – perplexing. Once the cat owners who live in country clubs have placed their orders, where does the company go next?

And on a more general note, what's with the home-keeping style that tries to hide what certain rooms do, or that anyone lives in the home? Toilet-paper cozies, plastic covers on furniture, the "parlor" at Grandma's house that nobody's allowed to go in…we agree that many pet products are hideous, and we applaud any effort to improve their visual profile. But spending hundreds of dollars to fool visitors into thinking you don't have pets? Why not save time and money and just…not have pets?

Have you tried any of the 5PP products? Would you? Or do they look like a waste of money? How much money and time do YOU spend trying to hide the evidence that you have dogs and cats – or do you just accept that the love of your favorite animals means your house won't be in a magazine? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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